Monday, August 20, 2012

From Esme Raji Codell, a bit about classroom discipline

What also comes to mind is a passage from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, describing a situation in a frontier classroom:
"These big boys thrash the teacher and break up the school.  They boasted that no teacher could finish the winter term at that school, and no teacher ever had. This year the teacher was a slim, pale young man.  His name was Mr. Corse.  He was gentle and patient, and never whipped little boys because they forgot how to spell a word. Almanzo felt sick inside when he thought how the big boys would beat Mr. Corse.  Mr. Corse wasn't big enough to fight them."
The story continues, describing insolence and disruptive behavior in the one-room schoolhouse by the band of boys, led by the teenager "Big Bill," and it is revealed that these boys have caused death to teachers in the past. The other children cannot concentrate on their work, or complete their lessons, in anticipation of the inevitable confrontations. Little Almanzo confides in his father, "I wish I was big enough to fight 'em!"
"'Son, Mr. Corse was hired out to teach the school,'  Father answered.  "The school trustees were fair and above board with him; they told him what he was undertaking.  He undertook it.  It's his job, not yours.'
'But maybe they'll kill him!'  Almanzo said.
'That's his business,' said Father.  'When a man undertakes a job, he has to stick to it till he finishes it.  If Corse is the man I think he is, he'll thank nobody for interfering.' 
....Big Bill tore off his coat, yelling, 'Come on boys!' He rushed up the aisle.  Almanzo felt sick inside; he didn't want to watch it, but he couldn't help it.
Mr. Corse stepped away from his desk.  His hand came from behind the desk lid, and a long, thin, black streak hissed through the air. 
It was a blacksnake ox-whip fifteen feet long.  Mr. Corse held the short handle, loaded with iron, that could kill an ox.  The thin, long lash coiled around Bill's legs, and Mr. Corse jerked.  Bill lurched and almost fell.  Quick as black lightning the lash circled and stuck and coiled again, and again Mr. Corse jerked."
illustration by Garth Williams

In this frontier memoir, Mr. Corse wins the battle and the war, and regains classroom control in a society where the parental attitude was "if the teacher has to thrash you again, I'll give you a thrashing you remember."  The problem of insanely brutal threats to classroom management are not new in the American classroom, nor are the extreme responses of educators. 

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